New York

Charles Hinman

Denise René Gallery

The Denise René Gallery showed a large group of recent paintings by Charles Hinman during March. The works fall into three categories: shaped canvases with multiple stretchers having one continuous plane; relief aggregations of separately stretched canvases jutting out from the wall at various angles; and closed three-dimensional painted objects, some of which stand on the floor while others hang from the ceiling. All share a relaxed avoidance of profundity in formal relations and a freewheeling, unsystematic attitude toward color. The critical problem is to decide whether their casualness is substantial or accidental.

I cannot detect any consistent esthetic procedure at work. I don’t mean that I am disappointed be-cause the works do not seem to evolve neatly along some teleological line. It is just that the formal interrelations between pieces do not seem to suggest an overall aim: for instance, there are two quite similar flat paintings (Casawari, Landing) made by grouping three quadrilateral subcanvases (increasing in length) in a fanlike array rotating about the right-hand end of a long horizontal subcanvas of the same width. Now it would seem reasonable that Casawari, in which the four parallelograms are all rectangular, would have preceded Landing, in which the two parallelograms within the angle are rhomboid in form—simply because a rectangle seems to be a primary form, while a rhombus (especially in relation to the conventional stretcher shape) is a rectangle modified. But Landing dates from 1971, Casawari from 1972.

Lavender and Ochre (1971), one of the most pleasing works, consists of a long horizontal rectangle interrupted, in the plane, by a thick right angle that resembles a carpenter’s square, the apex of which extends up above the top edge of the rectangle while the left leg extends down below the bottom edge. There is a vertical, and also oblong, band at the left edge, of the same width as the legs of the “square” and touching corners with it. At the far right there is an area equal to the band at the left, but here it is not spelled out as a vertical form; instead it is merely evoked by the edge of a triangular hole in the canvas at the right foot of the angle. A motif which is frequent in these works appears here: the positive/negative identification of a triangular protrusion with a similar triangle actually cut through (or into the edge of) the basic stretcher and within its borders. Often when Hinman goes beyond the limit of the primary rectangle he compensates as it were for the transgression by making room for the replacement of such protruding features within the picture, like the misplaced pieces of a puzzle in the course of solution.

Jam Every Other Day (1971) is a larger and more complex version of the same setup, although it is difficult, once again, to guess whether this version is elaborated or the other simplified. In Jam the scheme (reading from left to right) begins with a pair of vertical bars, magenta and then yellow, on the left. Then a blue bar which is the leg of a right angle with its apex this time pointing down, then a yellow bar at an angle opposite to the blue one, and finally another pair of vertical bars—this time magenta and blue. One difference is that in Lavender and Ochre there is an unaccountable protrusion of the right angle, while in Jam any protruding triangles can be paired with missing ones somewhere else. Jam Every Other Day is much more complicated than Lavender and Ochre but the second is the more interesting painting, probably because the relative unaccountability of its extending angle is a kind of pebble in the shoe that keeps attention engaged, and also because the color is unusually sedate.

Of the relieflike paintings made by mounting distinct canvases touching each other at angles in space, Tasmanian Devil (1972) is the major example. Here there are four large vertical panels which adjoin at their centers and tip out alternately from top then bottom then top then bottom. The spatiality of their nearly physical “twist” is psychologically heightened by the unexpected fact that the panels are not really rectangular, although all the verticals are parallel. So there is an illusionistic exaggeration of the (actual) recession of the angled planes in space. This is interesting, but none of the other pieces- really relates to it—perhaps because it is very recent—as if its relative profundity were somehow a fluke. This feeling is increased when we think of the work in light of similar sequences of vividly colored panels (but in one plane) by Ellsworth Kelly. Then Hinman’s colors look disorganized, even noisy. Sometimes one suspects that Hinman’s colors in their very arbitrariness, could have a flaglike inevitability and definiteness. But he is too interested in the unique local aroma of each monochrome panel or form to allow such a combination to gather the collective strength necessary for a total pattern or chord of colors.

Forest (1971) is the floor piece. In its present form it consists of four elements, two each of two subtly different objects that could be described as truncated obelisks with three sides and inverted corners. Here they are made of masonite painted in jazzy colors on the rough side. They can be considered mockups for sculptures in some more permanent material, but because of the grain of the masonite and the similarity of the forms and colors to the elements of Hinman’s two-dimensional paintings, they have for the time being the air of strangely materialized images from paintings, which is perhaps why the space between them seems so charged. (If they were in a painting they might suggest Fritz Glarner.) They loom somewhat disconcertingly out of plumb, like parts of an Expressionist stage set. Air (1972), the hanging piece, also consists of four units, but here they are identical—perhaps yet another move from the complex to the simple. They fairly unequivocally comprise a piece of sculpture, yet they are really “canvases” stretched full-round. And each component, in itself irregular but composed of a sequence of facets, is also reminiscent of Hinman’s earlier paintings that bulged out from the wall on hull-like armatures. Maybe there is a logic.

Joseph Masheck